Can the Detroit Lions carve out a role for Hunter Bryant?

Hunter Bryant, Washington Huskies (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Hunter Bryant, Washington Huskies (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions landed one of the top undrafted rookie free agents available this offseason. Now, can they figure out a way to use his skills?

If you are an undrafted rookie free agent looking at the Detroit Lions‘ tight end position, you’d likely not view it as a favorable landing spot. After all, the Lions used the eighth overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft on tight end T.J. Hockenson, locking him in as the starter for the foreseeable future.

Throw-in a veteran like Jesse James, and the versatile Isaac Nauta who finished last year playing some at fullback, and suddenly the opportunities to crack the roster at tight end seem thin. Yet that didn’t stop arguably the most wanted undrafted rookie free agent in 2020 from signing with the Lions.

That UDFA being Washington tight end Hunter Bryant. Ranked by many as a Top-100 level talent, Bryant shockingly ended up going undrafted. It’s suspected that was a result of his small frame for the position (6-foot-2, 239 pounds), a knee injury that impacted his first two seasons in college, and the 4.74 second 40-yard time he posted at the NFL Scouting Combine.

But Bryant is undoubtedly talented, specifically as a receiver. He recorded 52 receptions for 825 yards and three touchdowns last year as a junior. Yet, he’s far from the traditional tight end and more of a tweener. Bryant is simply a playmaker that you can line up in the slot, along the outside, or even in the backfield.

Here’s what Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network wrote about Bryant’s potential in the NFL …

"“Hunter Bryant should be a dynamic receiving threat at the NFL level. Bryant brings excellent quickness, run after catch skills and versatility to a flex tight end role. Plugging Bryant into a traditional inline role will water down his receiving skills — he’s best working off the LOS or as a flexed slot receiver who can serve as a H/W/S mismatch for opposing defenders.”"

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The Detroit Lions will have to find a way to maximize Hunter Bryant’s strengths

Similar to what Detroit had with former first-round tight end Eric Ebron for many years, Lions’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has to use Bryant more as a flex option than a traditional in-line blocker. This is a niche player that will need to be utilized in a very specific way.

But there’s a reason Bryant was a finalist for the John Mackey award for being one of the nation’s top tight ends in college last year. He’s a dynamic playmaker that brings something to the table no other tight end on the Lions’ current roster possesses.

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With the Detroit Lions, Hunter Bryant is undoubtedly hoping to find an impactful role alongside 2019 first-rounder T.J. Hockenson. Perhaps the duo can provide a surprising one-two punch from what has been a traditionally underperforming position in the Motor City. But that will depend largely on if the Lions’ coaching staff can figure out a way to best utilize Bryant’s unique skill set.